Have you taken notice of how you feel after doing an interactive music session?
Do you notice the difference to how you felt before the session?
Are you more focussed, present, relaxed, and energised?
It’s this phenomenon that I am going to talk to you about, and what its relevance is to modern life both psychologically and sociologically.
My name is Brett Schlesinger and I am a Drum Cafe facilitator, having been connecting people in groups for over 20 years, and making and studying music for 33 years. In this time, I have discovered:
1. The phenomenon of groups of people connecting in a synchronised activity like drumming, singing or dancing is totally instinctive, and has a transformational effect on mood and mental state.
2. This phenomenon is slowly diminishing in modern life.
3. The emergence of virtual community is a sinister and ineffective replacement for this healthy activity.
4. Africa that has something to teach the west about connecting and its healing effect on humans.
Firstly the phenomenon itself …
A physical group activity based on a non-verbal and synchronised connection whilst doing a unified activity. It sounds very specific, but it is actually what we do when we sing, drum, dance, pray, move or exercise together. Humans have been doing this for centuries and we do it instinctively, joining in with singing or dancing during ceremonies, rituals and hobbies.
The effect is something that you don’t get on your own. If you had to drum alone at home, you might not continue for so long … showing that you actually get energy back from the group. This energy exchange is the core of what makes it effective. Group energy makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. After doing an activity like this, we feel connected, energised, happier, more fulfilled and on some level, healthier.
Secondly there is a DECLINE in this type of activity in modern life. This is a function of our obsession with privacy and personal space, our awkwardness with group intimacy and connection, our suspicion of strangers and finally, our inability to lose control during transcendent activities. The decline in organised religion has also meant we have lost many of the rituals that used to bring us together in this way. The origin of the word Religion, with its root re ligare, where the word Ligare means, “to bind” might suggest that the origin of religion was to bind a society.
In modern life, despite their powerful beneficial effects, we are willingly abandoning these types of activities.
Mother Theresa said that “Loneliness is the leprosy of the west”, suggesting that the western way, with its tendency towards isolation and separation has resulted in an epidemic.
A sinister replacement for these physical activities has been virtual communities where people connect online. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram etc create connections, but without the same level of energy exchange. In Japan, there is a term called Hikki Kamori, which means, “Pulling inward, being confined” and is used to describe a phenomenon where youths have confined themselves to their bedrooms, having no human contact whatsoever. Kids spending such a massive amount of time online with no human contact results in disconnection, isolation and finally depression.
Another way that young people are getting an inadequate sense of community is via raves when accompanied by drugs. Here they get the connection and the tribal unity, which they are seeking, but of course its health giving effects are doubtful because of the mind-altering drugs.
Finally in Africa, though less successful financially, economically and technologically than the west, has something to teach the rest of the world about connection. In Africa, in general, even amidst extreme poverty, there is less isolation and more community.
These types of activities occur naturally in Africa where performers and audience are not separated. The village would clap, click, sing and dance along with the performers and this idea of sitting silently in a darkened auditorium while the performers go mad on stage is a western concept.
This sense of UBUNTU, which means, “I am because of who we are ” is one of the things that has drawn me to African music my whole life.
So in summary, the process of synchronised group ritual is a healing human need, in fast decline in modern life, being replaced by sinister virtual community and isolation, and is something that we can learn from African culture.
Businesses crave community, and Drum Cafe’s 42,000 events in 56 countries is a symptom of that need. Triathlon, Zumba classes, yoga, dance classes and choirs satisfy the need, and there are many ways of connecting in groups to get the energy exchange necessary for health and happiness. So next time you are tempted to go online and spend time finding out what your old school friends had for breakfast, rather go and find a ritual euphoric group activity to take part in and see what it does to you.